Last season, Liverpool got as close as they’ve yet been to their first title of the Premier League era, and they got there by playing perhaps the most exciting, attacking football in all of Europe. They may not have won it all in the end, but they impressed a lot of people, and hopes were high for them as they returned to Europe’s premier club competition as a result of their success.
What came next was massively disappointing. The Liverpool side that faced off against Basel and Madrid and Ludogorets in the Champions League group stages looked nothing like the one so many fans around the globe had warmed to the season before. Gone was the breakneck pace and pressure; the unstoppable counter-attacking game and the feeling that Liverpool could win every match by a 5-4 scoreline.
"It wasn’t the real Liverpool earlier in the season," said Brendan Rodgers, reflecting on his club’s autumn in continental action and their hopes for the coming Europa League campaign. "Obviously I was hopeful we would still be in the Champions League at this stage, but it wasn’t to be. We’re still in a very good competition, and we’ll attack these games like we have all our matches these last few months."
It’s clear Rodgers doesn’t think the Liverpool side that headed to Europe in the autumn was a fair reflection of the talent in the squad and the way he wants to play, and he’s likely right, though the role Rodgers himself played in that side’s failings cannot be completely ignored. No trust in some new signings and supreme trust in others, a dysfunctional midfield, and misfiring strikers were all problems Rodgers had a hand in creating.
The Liverpool side that headed to Europe in the autumn—and the one fans saw on the weekends in domestic action—was a shadow of the one seen the season before. It wasn’t the real Liverpool. Or at least not the Liverpool fans or the manager wanted to see. Fortunately, around the time the club were bombing out of the Champions League, Rodgers was finally finding a way forward for them.
"Of course to arrive there and not have the team to go and play the way we had was frustrating," he added. "It was frustrating. But it’s been a great learning curve for us and hopefully we can be there in other years and be a lot more stable and consistent with our performances. If we were maybe the team we were, or were further down the road with this team, then we’d have had a chance with the Champions League.
"If we were in it now, with this group and the confidence we’ve shown and the way we’re working, then we would have had a chance. Of course there’s maybe others that are more experienced or better equipped, but I’d never write us off in any competition now that we’re back working how we are, and [the Europa League] is a competition that again we’ll look to win and do well in."